Monday, December 11, 2006

I can't believe it's not summer! - 798 unit & co

Hau Fook Street has always been a bit of a refuge for hungry shoppers on this side of the Victoria Harbour, since eateries along Canton Road can be pricey and/or unreliable, and a bit far from us 'hip' people (look, it's a euphemism, okay? No need to spell out that we can't afford a new Bottega every weekend...) who shop at Rise, and in and around Granville Road.

Then again, Hau Fook can be a bit boring, dominated by cheap and cheerful Canto outlets, with the dessert shop that everyone knows (I forgot the English name) as its only salvation.

Introducing 798 unit & co. - a new(ish) NY bistro type place in the heart of Hau Fook Street, right next to the groovy design/homewares store Homeless. According to my friend, 798 is in fact the Hong Kong outpost of a restaurant by the same name in NY. Anyone been (to the NY one)?

Located on the first floor, the dining room is quite spacious, especially by HK standards, featuring a stainless steel open kitchen at the entrance, where cakes are also displayed. There is an almost nautical feel with the round windows lining the side (painted black) of the space that looks out to HF Street, and mirrors on the back wall where several white banquettes are also located. Tables and chairs are simple solid wood that squeal and grumble like a kid and a grandpa rolled in one (though both would be quite unhappy making those noises) when moved upon the black and white tiled floor. Tables are sans tablecloth and with paper napery, but good basic silverware (as you would expect at any decent cafe, not to mention restaurant in say, Melbourne). Lighting is a little in sufficient for me, but then again maybe I'm just not enough of a romantic. One last comment before getting onto the food - the aircon is bloody freezing.

I've been here two times now, and my impression of the food, unlike the quality of food itself, has been quite consistent - not exactly up to scratch... sometimes.

The first time I went, I had a fennel risotto with some sort of fish, which was fine. I remember being glad that the risotto was actually cooked to the correct texture (though it was nothing amazing). It was the fact that fennel was on the menu that caught my eye. Ask someone at some so-called 'western' restaurants and they wouldn't have a clue what it is. That was the night I had a glass of wine off their winelist. I couldn't resist at $38 a glass (yes that is HKD), but just let me say, price can never determine quality, but can be suggestive of it nonetheless.

On my most recent visit the service was unattentive to say the least. Do they understand that the same course for people on the same table have to be served at the same time??? Just because I ordered roast chicken doesn't mean my friend's (mediocre) Thai-inspired risotto had to sit under the freezing aircon-created conditions for a full 10 mins (at least) before my dish arrived. errr, sir, ever heard of planning? Or even an apology?!

My roast chicken was fine - huge portion - about four to five pieces of honey-glazed roast chicken spruced up with paprika or something. A little too sweet for my liking, but the baby spinach (salad) underneath helped. For dessert we had banoffee pie (they spelt it 'banoffi' - more on menu proofreading should-haves later) which was very nice. The cream on the pie seems to have been chilled for a while and by the time we ate it, was marshmallowy, which suited me fine, although my friend said it was quite different from what she had on her last visit. We also had a lime pannacotta that was way sour - I only liked it because I'm the kind of person that basically drinks vinegar from a soup spoon with my xiao long bao and drowns my viet broken rice in nuoc cham.

They've changed the presentation of the menu since I last visited; added Chinese translations (not that that affects me as such) and updated some of their offerings, which is what all good restaurants should do. But apart from the 'Banoffi' incident, we noticed a pasta dish claiming to feature summer vegetables. I know winter isn't really wintry in this part of the world, but it certainly ain't summer any more by anyone's standards. Unless of course, they were using imported vegies from Down Under or the Kiwis, which I doubt. I can smell a hint of pretentiousness in the air...

The main thing to give them credit for is for their Hau Fook Street-friendly prices. Pastas go for about HK$60-90 for more than acceptable portions, and there has definitely been thought put into the food, just not enough care on the part of management - both within and beyond the kitchen. The wine list is horrific, but I guess they're just trying to keep within (customers') budget and good enough for most of the target market. But I mean, anyone in the right mind would not have wine in HK that costs $28 a glass, $140 by the bottle (pompous comment by me that night: "I usually have wines by the glass at the price of that bottle"). Okay enough said.

798 unit & co.
1/F 9 Hau Fook Street
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 23660234

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